Ponneelan is a much-admired Tamil writer renowned for his novels, short story collections, biographies, critical essays, and translations. His novel Pudhiya Dharisanangal won the 1994 Sahitya Akademi Award for Tamil. In 2016 it was translated as New Dharshans by S. Nagarajan and published by Sahitya Akademi. His other major novel was Marupakkam considered as his lifetime achievement which delves into the complexities of the Mandaikkadu riot of his region. Karisal was his debut novel, published in 1976. Forty-five years later, it continues to remain in print in Tamil.
Priyadarshini, granddaughter of Ponneelan, grew up in an atmosphere of literature and litterateur. Her grandfather's library of books and the writers and political leaders who visited him shaped her childhood and growing up in many ways. Priyadarshini is also passionate about penning poems and painting.
Kannappan is posted to Perumalpuram as the new schoolteacher. The village lies in the black soil region of Tamil Nadu where the river Tamirabarani flows. He's an outsider in this village with Veerayyan, a local farmer, as his only guide and friend.
Once settled in his role, Kannappan observes the everyday brutality faced by the farmers at the hands of the sadistic, all-powerful landlord-the Master. Child marriage is common in the village and so is the appalling practice of marrying young lads to older women who then serve as their father-in-law's consort. Through his gentle yet probing conversations with the villagers, Kannappan tries his best to show the villagers a better way of life. The farmers who had begun protesting the excesses meted out to them by the upper-caste landlord soon find an ally in Kannappan. The schoolteacher's sympathies for their cause bolster their waning spirits and replenishes their resolve to fight back.
Ponneelan's first novel is a tour de force. Now translated for the first time, Black Soil lays bare the atrocities faced by the farmers and the human cost of building a better tomorrow.
|January 30, 2023